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Gardner Minshew

Minshew Likes to Play

Gardner Minshew likes to play football. And he wants to win.

I know those statements sound like a call from “Captain Obvious” but have you always thought that about the Jaguars quarterback?

It’s easy to pick on Blane Gabbert and his time here but consider this: Did you think Gabbert acted as if he liked playing football while he was here? In fact, Minshew is almost the anti-Gabbert. Blaine was 21 years old when he was drafted out of Missouri in the first round by the Jaguars. He had played 31 games in college. Minshew was two weeks short of his 23rd birthday when the Jaguars drafted him in the 6th round out of Washington State. He played 42 games at three different schools in his college career. Gabbert was one of the greatest practice players anybody has ever seen. He couldn’t replicate that on Sunday’. Minshew takes that practice acumen to another level on game day.

And Minshew’s teammates love him. That Gardner Minshew you see in interviews and commercials is the same guy his teammates know on the field, in the locker room and when it’s game time.

“We’re looking at the same Gardner Minshew, that’s what I see. I see a superstar,” Josh Allen, who’s emerging as a leader on this young Jaguars team said. “I think, in my eyes,. I think he’s a great quarterback. He has the whole team, the whole organization behind him. And I feel like that’s all you really need as a football player.”

And Allen wasn’t finished. He recognized that intangible thing that the “it” players have, regardless of position.

“He has the look, he has the swag, he has the arm and he has the plays to make—to be who I consider a great quarterback in the NFL. That’s my guy.”

We don’t know what the Jaguars will do this year. A win in their opening game against the Colts as a 7 ½ point underdog was a surprise to everybody outside the Jaguars locker room. Most wrap-ups of the game blamed Phillip Rivers and the Colts instead of giving the Jaguars credit. Which is typical as we know.

“There’s time to have some fun. He’s a fun guy to hang around with, he’s a funny guy, entertaining,” Jaguars Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden said this week about working with Minshew. “But for the most part, when it’s business, it’s business and he takes good notes, he studies the game, he spits out the plays in the huddle, which quarterbacks have to do It’s exciting to work with him because guys that are aware of how necessary it is to prepare and the guys that do prepare, it’s fun to watch them and develop.”

Minshew has deflected a lot of the praise he’s gotten this year and last when it comes to “Minshew Mania,” just what a quarterback should do. And he projects his feelings on to his team.

“I think one of the things that served us well today was that we all have so much belief in each other,” he said after the game last Sunday. “Whether it is me in them or them in me, when you have that, you can trust people to do their jobs.”

Knowing the Jaguars are the youngest team in the league, he reflected back on last year when he was thrust into the lineup and figured out how to play in the NFL.

“Until you actually do it, there’s a part of it you have to prove it to yourself,” he said. “You always say ‘I know I can play in this league’, but until you do it…you know, I know this time last year that was the time when I was really like ‘I really can do it’.

Didn’t it make you laugh when at the Super Bowl last year Minshew said on radio row, “It’s been great, I think I kinda found my people in Jacksonville you know, just the right amount of white-trashiness for me,” he said. “So we’re having a great time down there and lovin’ it.”

Clearly he’s not taking himself too seriously and neither do we.

Just this week NFL analyst Nate Burleson said, “I want to be in the huddle with this guy. Heck, I want to be in a street fight with this guy.”

For all of the moves the Jaguars have made I don’t like, they seem to have put together a receiving corps that takes a backseat to no one. D.J. Chark can take the top off of any defense. Collin Johnson is the real athlete they’ve missed in that group since Allen Robinson left. Laviska Shenault literally could become the next Larry Fitzgerald. Keelan Cole has a chemistry with Minshew you can’t just make happen. He had five catches and a touchdown against the Colts. Chris Conley provides leadership. And Dede Westbrook hasn’t even seen the field yet because of injury. They’re all growing up together with Minshew as their quarterback.

“They got that swag about them,” Gardner said of the young players on the Jaguars. “Our guys have that same confidence where they know that they belong here, and not only do they belong but they can be really good players for us.”

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone admits he didn’t know much about Minshew when the Jaguars drafted him except that “he played for 14 colleges” he joked this week.

“He had to learn different playbooks, so I knew he could do that,” Marrone said. “I knew he could handle that. He’s got a taste of it and I know he wants a bigger bite of it now.”

And for all of the preseason talk about “tanking” for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence in next year’s draft and now the revival of “Minshew Mania,” where does the Jaguars quarterback fall in all of this?

“I don’t care what you all talk about.,” he told the media this week. “We’re going to do what we do. Try to win one game a week. That’s all we can do. We’re very excited about this start.”

Gardner Minshew

Can the 2020 Jaguars Be Virtually Good?

It appears we’ll have some sort of NFL season in 2020. Several owners this week thought out loud that fans would be allowed, but the decision on that is a while off. With only fifteen percent of each team’s revenue coming from ticket sales, they could play a season without fans in the stands. It would be weird, like the fourth quarter of a preseason game but they could do it. Add in the money lost for concessions and in game sponsorship, and the money still made through the television contracts would make playing a season worthwhile.

Contrast that with college football, where about seventy-five percent of the revenue comes through ticket sales. Add in the support the football program gives to the other sports on campus and you can see it would be a difficult, and devastating blow to college sports if they can’t play a season.

Nonetheless, the NFL is plowing along, making preparations to play, albeit without any OTA’s or mini-camps, with the plan to have teams gather in person for the first time at the end of July for training camp. The current virtual team meetings will give way to actual coaching, on and off the field.

“It’s still difficult,” Jaguars new Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden said this week about not being able to see players in person. “It’s one thing to install plays on a chalk board and virtual meetings getting to know the concepts and all that stuff, but it’s another thing to go out and execute and see what we’re good at, to see what guy can do.”

“I don’t have a lot of information as far as how these guys can handle different positions and how to run different routes and all that stuff, “ Gruden continued. “We have to get these guys on the field but then getting them out there and seeing them execute it. We got to get out on the field soon.”

Taking this time at home in Mississippi, Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew has been able to focus on one thing in the last four months: getting better.

“Since the day after the Super Bowl, I’ve been going six days a week for the last, however many months it’s been,” he said via video conference call with the media this week “It’s been a lot of fun seeing growth in yourself and your game. I’ve been talking to the receivers, and everybody.

Minshew said he’s been tinkering with his weight and his strength trying to find the right combination. He was up to 230 lbs. about the first of March, but is back down under 225 now and feels comfortable with his size and speed as well as his arm strength at that weight. He’s also been leading his offensive teammates, albeit virtually, to try and stay ahead of things.

“We’ve been doing some players only walk throughs virtually that have been helping guys learn and also just getting us together,” he explained. “Then, moving forward we’re also going to try and get together a little bit more before camp to kind of get what reps we can, while being safe and smart.”

How does that even work? Minshew said he’s been getting the offensive guys together to just go through plays so his teammates can hear the call and understand what they need to do on each play.

“So on Microsoft TEAMS there is an application that is called white board and so you are basically on a group call,” he said. “I will call out a play and like whoever is in for that play will just draw their assignment and we just kind of go around and talk about it. I think it is a good way, it is one thing to learn it on paper but to hear the call and then know what to do right there, I think it has been a good way, got to make the best of a bad situation.”

Officially, the Jaguars coaching staff is meeting, virtually, with each other and with their position groups to install the offense, bit by bit, as if they were going through OTA’s and mini-camp. Minshew is trying to go the extra mile as the leader on offense.

“When you talk about the whiteboard and what Gardner is doing, that’s totally separate from the staff,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said Friday. “So, that pretty much, probably, for lack of a better way to describe it, really takes the place of, you know, you read about these quarterback that get together with their receivers and work on things extra during the off season. That’s separate.”

Marrone is the first to admit each season is different, each team is different and you have to build your team from the bottom up every year.

“I like that because obviously you have our players, they’re talking to each other, they’re trading some chemistry, and I think it creates accountability amongst themselves,” he said. “They’re also going to be even more so accountable, in my opinion, when you’re working with each other. I think that’s the best way to create accountability is when the players are keeping themselves accountable.”

So where do the wins come from for this young team that nobody expects to do anything? The over/under number for wins for the Jaguars out of Las Vegas is 4 ½. It’s the lowest total in the league, so they’re not expecting much out of Doug Marrone’s team, no matter how much they believe they’ve done the right things in this offseason.

“I think it should put a chip on everybody’s shoulder on our team, know being kind of counted out like that,” Minshew said of the low expectations for the Jaguars.

“I think we do have a lot to prove, prove that we are not what anybody says about us, the only people that really know, the only peoples whose opinions matter is who is in that huddle, who is on that team and I think we are going to set those expectations for ourselves and not worry about what anybody else has to say about us.”

We all play the game when the schedule comes out, but now that the Jaguars roster seems to be set, either with or without Yannick Ngakoue or Leonard Fournette, can they be a surprise team in 2020?

In the opening six games, let’s say they win a game they’re not supposed to and win one on the road and they’re 3-3. It’s possible they could be 0-3 in the division at that point since their only home division game is the opener against the Colts and Phillip Rivers as their new quarterback. Never a good scenario for the Jaguars. In the last ten games of the year, they might be an underdog in every game and will have a tough time beating the Chargers to start, because they rarely play well on the West Coast. Games against the Packers, Steelers, Ravens, Vikings and the Colts in Indy will all be uphill battles.

That leaves four home games against Houston, Cleveland, Tennessee, and Chicago.

If they win a couple of those and Minshew works his magic a few other times during the season, the 2020 Jaguars are still looking up at a .500 record.

We’re all hoping Las Vegas is wrong, but going through the schedule, they don’t seem that far off.

Hopefully these young guys will surprise us.

Bortles to Minshew and In Between. What Happened

Just two years ago the Jaguars were one play away from the Super Bowl. Since then, they’ve won nine of their last twenty-eight games. Nine.

How did they get here so quickly?

In his post-game press conference after the loss to New England in the AFC Championship game, Head Coach Doug Marrone was spot on when he said, “You don’t just pick up where you left off. You have to start all over again.” He was right. And the Jaguars haven’t been able to recreate what happened in 2017 either in their culture or their performance.

But why? Because they’re a very different team than they were just two years ago.

The league is very sophisticated; everybody knows what everybody else is doing. You can say Marrone has to go or that the locker room has gone tone deaf to his message after three years, but professional football is about the players on the field. Very few schemes or coaches have tipped the outcome. It’s the players on the field, their talent and their execution that makes the difference.

You know the play every team in the NFL runs where the QB sticks the ball in the running back’s gut, pulls it out, fakes to the wide receiver who has motioned through the backfield and then pitches it to the tight end who’s dragging the other way across on the inside of the line? Do the Jaguars even have that play? Are they running a lot of motion and deception to put pressure on the defense? No, they’re not.

Because they’re not built to do that.

They’re built to have a power running game, and throw the ball downfield. But they’re not doing that because their personnel aren’t up to the task at this point. It’s also a team that looks like one that could be built to win in the league fifteen or twenty years ago.

Are you going to beat Kansas City, Baltimore, Seattle and other creative teams like the Rams with this current game plan scoring seventeen or twenty-four points a game?

Obviously not.

Marrone inadvertently hit on at least one of the answers this week.

“You say, ‘I know that a percentage of the time, they’re going to be in this or that,’ but it’s just the personnel,” he said when asked about the Jaguars struggling. “That’s the big thing. You can run the same scheme on 32 teams, but you’re not going to have the same type of results, it’s going to be the personnel, but the problem is that you say,’ Hey, is my cat better than your cat?’”
And that’s where the Jaguars have fallen so quickly in less than two seasons. They’re a very different team with different personnel, than they were in 2017.

On defense they have at least six new starters, yet Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash is still running the same “gap control” scheme. It’s why the Jaguars have given up so many long runs this year where it looks like there’s nobody there. Paul Posluszny, Malik Jackson, Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson are all gone.

Poz retired and the Jaguars miss him as the “thumper” in the middle who was rarely out of position and when that “gap” opened, he stepped in there and filled it. His replacement, Myles Jack, it a phenomenal athlete but too often is swept up on the flow of a play. He isn’t that guy like Poz, or Lonnie Martz or Tom McManus before him, who would just stand there in the hole and say, ‘OK, come on.’ It would be hard to come close to quantifying how much they miss Poz’s leadership and locker room presence.

Jackson didn’t like the way he as being used and left when his contract was up. Telvin has some kind of personal issues that had him leave football altogether. Ramsey played well that year but was a disruptive force and wanted out. This year’s safety combo might be better athletes than Church and Gipson, but those two were where they were supposed to be and slowed some people down. Church’s lapse of judgment in London cost him a spot on the team and they let Gipson walk as a free agent.

On offense the pass catching group was Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Marcedes Lewis. They cut Hurns in somewhat of a salary cap move, Lee has been hurt and even though he had something left, they let Lewis walk. Another guy whose locker room presence is immeasurable. He’s still getting it done in Green Bay.

Although D.J. Chark might be an emerging star, the current group isn’t a productive upgrade.

Up front Cam Robinson played well as a rookie at left tackle. Free agent signing Andrew Norwell, signed to replace Omameh at left guard, hasn’t panned out. Norwell has been ordinary at best. I still think Brandon Linder would be a better guard than he is at center. A.J. Cann is a smart, tough and mobile player, but he might not be big enough for what the Jaguars are trying to do at guard. Jeremy Parnell was serviceable at right tackle. His replacement, Jawaan Taylor, could end up being a fixture there but the Jaguars are going through the growing pains that happen when you put a rookie in the starting lineup.

While the salary cap dictates that you can’t keep everybody, the Jaguars decision-making about who to keep and who to let walk hasn’t worked they way they expected.

To start, you can look at the decision to let Allen Robinson to become a free agent. I know he was hurt at the beginning of 2017 but wouldn’t they like to have him back?

Trading Dante Fowler and letting Aaron Colvin become a free agent are understandable. Fowler’s a goofball and Colvin wanted starter’s money.

Selecting Taven Bryan in the first round, a pick make out of hubris and not need, didn’t make the Jaguars any better. They had other positions that begged to be addressed.

Having made the decision to stick with Blake Bortles at quarterback at the time, they needed to get him some help with guys running and catching the ball and besides drafting Leonard Fournette, that didn’t happen.

So when Marrone asked that rhetorical question, ’Hey, is my cat better than your cat?’” Right now, the answer is no.

Minshew or Foles? No Rush

In some ways the game against the Texans in London will help determine what happens with the Jaguars for the rest of this season and beyond. The decision at quarterback won’t be an easy one, and it could have franchise implications for years to come.

With a win at Wembley, the Jaguars will have won three straight with Gardner Minshew at quarterback, moved to 5-4 and have a say in who wins the AFC South.

In that scenario, it’s hard to take Minshew out of the lineup in favor of Nick Foles. You almost have to go with the hot hand.

If the Texans win, the Jaguars are 4-5 and are looking up at both Houston and Indianapolis in the division, at least two games behind with seven to play.

There are plenty of situations in the past where the head coach had to make a decision where to go at quarterback when the established starter has been injured but the backup plays well. Doug Marrone says he hasn’t thought about it one bit, so far.

“Why would I go through scenarios in my mind and waste my time with scenarios when I have to get ready for another game,” he said this week. “If we didn’t have a bye after the Texans game, I think somewhere along the line next week, I would start going through that in my mind. I really haven’t thought about it. The reason why is because I don’t have to, and I don’t want to. I’ll deal with it when it happens.”

I don’t think the money they’re paying Foles comes into the equation right now. If it’s about winning, which quarterback gives them the best chance to do that? You don’t know how this team plays with Foles as the starter. He got hurt after two series in the opener. He did throw a touchdown pass on the play when he was injured. You can go by the old adage that player’s don’t lose their starting jobs to injury. Or you can say Minshew throws all of the old adage’s out the window.

Ultimately It’ll be Marrone’s decision but actually what happens is up to Minshew. Marrone has to take into consideration the emotional impact Minshew has on the team. Call it “Minshew Magic” or call it chemistry but there’s no question he inspires the guys in that locker room.

That’s why it’ll be up to him. If they lose to Houston in London and the Jaguars brass decides to put Foles back in the lineup when they resume in two weeks against Indy, Gardner has to go along with it. I mean really go along.

If he says, “Yeah, I’m cool with it. Nick’s a great player and he’s our starter,” his teammates will buy into it.

But if he comes out and says, “It was a coach’s decision and I’ll stick to that” then there’s trouble in River City. The team will lose their motivation and unless Foles plays lights out, the season will grind to a halt.

There are plenty of examples in the past of injured starters and their backups: John Unitas and Earl Morrall, Morrall and Bob Griese, Jeff Hostetler and Phil Simms. This year Drew Brees was back in the lineup after his backup; Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 as the starter while Brees was out with a thumb injury.

Morrall came in for an injured Griese in game five of the ’72 season. He won 12 straight games for the Dolphins, including playoff wins over Oakland and Pittsburgh. Head Coach Don Shula put Griese back in the game as the starter in Super bowl VII against Washington to finish their perfect season.

Morrall told Shula, “I think I should play, but I’m not going to make a problem.”

These next three games will determine what kind of season 2019 will be for the Jaguars. Three division games, none of them here in Jacksonville. Win two out of three and they’ll be a favorite in four of their last five games (maybe not against the Raiders in Oakland) with a realistic shot at the post-season. Lose two out of three and it’s an uphill slog where they’ll need help to make the playoffs.
Virtually the same scenario happened to the 1978 New York Jets. Richard Todd was the Jets starter but broke his collarbone four weeks into the season. Second-year quarterback Matt Robinson came in and led the Jets into playoff contention over the next twelve games.

“We missed a field goal at the end of the game twelve games in against the Patriots in Shea Stadium to really be in the thick of it,” Robinson recalled.

Head Coach Walt Michaels had started Todd against New England, only to see him falter. He put Matt back under center mid-game. Robinson threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to revive the Jets chances.

“When Walt started Richard the next game, that split the locker room,” Robinson said. “And we were done. We missed the playoffs.”

That’s the dilemma the Jaguars face. Can you flip-flop your quarterbacks and not lose the locker room? If they start Foles against the Colts and he falters, do they return Gardner to the lineup?

Marrone already knows what Minshew can do.

“Sometimes I look and you’re like, ‘That’s a veteran move. That’s a veteran player,’” he said after the win against New York. “He does not play like he was brought into this league, a sixth-round draft pick or something like that. He doesn’t play like that.”

It’s going to have to be a gut call. Win in London and let Minshew keep playing. Foles has shown to be the best reliever in the game if things go south. Lose to the Texans and put Foles in the lineup. He can make throws Minshew can’t. He doesn’t have Gardner’s mobility or his ‘magic’ but he’s a proven winner. Give Minshew a chance to watch and learn some more, give him some seasoning. You know he can play.

There shouldn’t be any rush here. The Packers had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers on their roster together for three years. Foles and Minshew can co-exist.

As Minshew said when asked what he thought of Foles coming back to practice two weeks ago:

“I think we’re pretty good at quarterback.”